The meth scourge is making inroads into New England thanks to a new, highly dangerous method of making the addictive stimulant that is so easy the drugs can be cooked inside a plastic water bottle tucked into someone's pocket.
The so-called one-pot method is highly volatile, though, leading to explosions and fires across New Hampshire, where the use of the method has rapidly spread.
"If you mix these in the wrong steps or you don't do something properly, it will blow up on you," said an undercover agent for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, who was interviewed on the condition he not be identified. "Everyone we interviewed that's been arrested has had a fire from doing this method. This is very, very dangerous."
It's not limited to New Hampshire. FOX Undercover has learned it was a one-pot cooker that caused an explosion inside the room of a Holiday Inn in Peabody last July. The DEA would not talk about the case, in which no one has been charged.
"New England was never known for methamphetamine, methamphetamine laboratories. We are now," the undercover DEA agent said.
The meth is cooked in plastic bottles by combining over-the-counter cold medicine and common household products.
"These bottles scare me. These little soda bottles, they cook drugs in, it's a very, very scary situation that we deal with," the undercover DEA agent said.
In New Hampshire, the DEA showed FOX Undercover how the method works. For our demonstration, the "meth cooks" were legitimate chemists wearing protective suits. But in reality, the real meth makers could be anywhere.
"They're your neighbors. They're my neighbors. It is so easy. You can do it in a car, you could do it in a tent, you could do it in an apartment, you could do it in a house," the DEA agent said. "You could do it in the middle of the woods. It's that easy to do."
Unlike traditional meth production, which takes up to three days and requires a heat source, this new method can be by mixing chemicals in a small container. On the street, it's known as rolling the bottle.
One of the dangers comes from pressure that builds up as the chemicals combine to form meth. The bottle needs to be opened during the process. If it's not, an explosion can happen, releasing deadly ammonia gas.
"When we hear a plastic bottle start to snap, you know pressure's building up in that bottle," the agent said. "You're racing the devil when you're doing this right here. One wrong step, you will catch on fire, you will cause a fire or an explosion."
Part of the problem is the ease which with cooks can get the ingredients. Federal law requires pharmacies to keep the over-the-counter cold medicines used to make meth behind the counter, to obtain information about who's buying them and to limit their purchases.
But the pharmacies don't talk to each other, so the people who buy the cold medicine to make meth, known as smurfers, can go to different pharmacies to get around the law.
"It obviously is a problem because we'd like to know if people are buying it at other stores. Unfortunately, right now there's no way to track that," said Katie Small, a pharmacist at Sullivan's Pharmacy in Roslindale. Small said she hasn't seen a problem so far.
Until recently, the DEA encountered only a handful of drug labs in New England. Last year, there were 42.
FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet sat down with John Arvanitis, the special agent in charge of the DEA's New England division.
"The DEA is always looking for information and intelligence to be able to further develop investigations," Arvanitis said.
"Why are we seeing an increase?" Beaudet asked.
"I think it really comes down to a desire of people to want to use," Arvanitis said.
"Are you worried about seeing more of these labs in Massachusetts?" Beaudet asked.
"We're always worried about any threat from a narcotics standpoint," Arvanitis replied. "We're always prepared for the threat. We're addressing the threat."
The threat of one-pot meth labs includes the casual disposal of the bottles used to make the drug. The DEA warns anyone seeing a suspicious-looking plastic bottle to not touch it but to call police.
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